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|26 June, 2016

MSD strongly supports Saudi Vision 2030

MSD spends close to $7 billion annually or roughly 18% of its sales on research and development, which is one of the highest in the industry.

Image used for illustrative purpose.

Image used for illustrative purpose.

REUTERS/Reuters Staff
26 June 2016
RIYADH -- Investors and multinational companies across all sectors welcome the Saudi government's "Vision 2030" initiative outlining the plans to achieve a thriving economy and a vibrant society by "developing our investment tools to unlock our promising economic sectors, diversify our economy and create job opportunities."

Taking the affirmative action, among them, is global healthcare leader MSD Saudi Arabia, also known as Merck in US and Canada.

MSD spends close to $7 billion annually or roughly 18% of its sales on research and development, which is one of the highest in the industry.

Patrick Jordan, Associate Vice President, MSD Saudi Arabia, said "as our company approaches its 125th anniversary, we continue to steadfastly believe that innovative research and development is the only way to create true and enduring value for all of our stakeholders."

In an interview, he said "our focus is generally in solving for unmet medical needs through our leading R&D products and team. Over time, MSD's concentration has shifted in line with the shifting demographics. We were early pioneers in the areas of hypertension, dyslipidemia, as well as the inventor of many of the world's pediatric vaccines used in and out of the Kingdom. Lately our focus has been on the exciting new area of immuno-oncology, Hepatitis C, as well as hospital anti-infective. This year alone in the kingdom, we hope to launch three innovative products in these three disease areas."

Expressing the company's sustained commitment on drug innovation, he said "we believe in the importance of continuous investment in research & development, to continue in developing innovative drugs to benefit the patients. Globally MSD spends close to $7 billion annually or roughly 18% of our sales, which is one of the highest in the industry. As our company approaches its 125th anniversary, we continue to steadfastly believe that innovative research and development is the only way to create true and enduring value for all of our stakeholders. We remain intently focused on tackling some of healthcare's most daunting challenges, including cancer, diabetes, Hepatitis C virus, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer's disease."

Excerpts from the interview follow:

• Under your leadership, what are MSD Saudi Arabia's short and long-term plans?

MSD wants to continue to contribute to the health and welfare of the people of Saudi Arabia by providing innovative treatments. Our hope is to continue to grow and expand our presence in Saudi Arabia through different partnerships that not only bring value to our company, but also bring value to the new Vision that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has expressed for the health of the Saudi citizens as well as the infrastructure.

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• What's your long - and short-term plans' role in meeting the government's transformational Vision 2030?

We support the government's transformational Vision 2030, and believe in playing our part to ensure its success in the healthcare sector by:

1. Saudization: We want to offer more jobs for Saudis, and this year alone 90% of our new hires have been Saudi. We are looking to fill positions for pharmacy graduates in different departments throughout the entire operation, rather than limit to any specific function.

2. Local partners: We work with local industry to share our knowledge and our know-how and also have plans to expand our collaborations.

3. Creating awareness campaigns for different disease areas, such as diabetes through our Ramadan campaign and World Diabetes Day.

4. Supporting the MOH in educational campaigns to educate the public on important diseases areas and the importance of prevention, as we have done with some of our vaccines in the past and diabetes.

5. Providing scientific leaders with updated information regarding clinical trials that support their patient's needs, including CME's (continuous medical education)

• What do you think is the biggest challenge in recruiting local talent for your industry and how will you overcome it? Are you conducting any initiatives, and support programs to encourage local talent?

The biggest challenge in recruiting in pharma sector is finding the best talent to attract. The pharma sector is more specialized than any other sector and since our mission is saving lives, there is no compromise on the high technical and interpersonal skills that employees and potential employees need to possess.

MSD therefore, invests in best-in-class technical and leadership programs to advance employees' development. It also ensures an above-market positioning in terms of pay, work environment, and facilities to attract and retain the best talents.

• What steps are you taking to train Saudi students?

We also offer a full onboarding program for each new employee, to give him or her clear understanding of the company's values, ethics and most importantly family culture. We invite a number of senior students to the company office for an orientation day to understand MSD's business, products, and different functions and how every employee contributes to saving lives. We also provide paid on-the- job training opportunities, as well as attract fresh graduates of both genders to pursue careers in MSD. Moreover, we are also contacting universities and concerned authorities to be proactive in searching for talents among senior students and recent graduates. We also cooperate with universities and colleges to provide summer training for students.

• Is the use of a 'human capital' approach to valuing production/economic losses due to illness, disability or premature death an effective tool to threaten and force compliance to health rigors?

Diabetes management can only be successful under a comprehensive program that combines continuous education on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle both from eating properly to getting enough exercise. This needs to be instilled from an early age. Nevertheless, at this stage, proper treatment, as well as adherence to the treatment to get the proper reduction in HbA1c levels, will form the foundation of a comprehensive diabetes management program. In short, human capital in the form of education is the most critical component.

• What do you think is the best prescription to promote the prevention or elimination of diseases/diabetes?

The most important goal we have to remember is the health of the citizen. However in treating and improving the health of the citizen, there are definitely productivity gains that will have an effect on the GDP of the kingdom. I think a quick look at the countries where health is tackled as a key component of government spend, will easily see that a healthier population is generally a more productive population.

• Do you believe that health education, such as on diabetes, is and should be a continuous process, not just on periodical basis, e.g. during Ramadan?

Yes, we do understand the burden of diabetes disease on the community, family, society and country.

To understand disease pattern, risks, local characteristics and some of the unmet clinical needs of Saudi diabetes population, MSD has conducted two consecutive clinical trials to quantify specific risk during Ramadan alone, and in comparison to sulphonylurea. We are also trying to have a Saudi representation in our R&D phase III clinical trials with two ongoing trials.

I said earlier that diabetes, HCV, oncology and vaccines are some of our areas of focus in Saudi Arabia, therefore we are also engaging Saudi investigators in these therapeutic areas. This confirms our long-term determination and commitment to health community and improving patient care in Saudi Arabia.

• Last year MSD launched a website & application for patients who are fasting and are of type 2 diabetic. The introduction of a website and application on diabetes is a novel project for MSD. What is the mainstay of this HCP education to encourage citizens to visit the site?

We have a variety of interactions for both patients and doctors:

1. The One-stop website for patient learning to live with type 2 diabetes provides patient with basic diabetes education, answers to their persistent questions, guidance for healthy living, or tips for managing their diabetes each day. This very knowledge prepares the patients to take charge of their disease and comply with their HCPs advice and recommendations.

2. MSD launched another website (www.univadis.org) which is specific only for doctors as a trusted medical reference - provides eLearning CME, conference update, recent medical news, continuous education regarding the disease, advances in the treatment and evidence of the results, etc.

3. A Ramadan Diabetes & Me application was also introduced by MSD as part of their ongoing commitment to support diabetics who choose to fast during the holy month. Developed specifically for iOS (Apple) and Android devices, this innovative app offers patients instant access to the "Facts About Fasting" information kit, and as well as providing a blood sugar tracking tool, which will enable fasting diabetics to record their glucose levels throughout Ramadan for discussion with their healthcare provider. The app also offers a Ramadan calendar for managing daily food intake and medication timing, a prayer compass, and prayer time alerts. The app can be downloaded for free via the iTunes App Store and the Android google play store.

• In what way is MSD Saudi giving back to the community at present? in the future?

As a company eager to help the world be well, we take corporate responsibility seriously. It's woven into all we do. It guides our behaviors and our actions. It informs both our philanthropy and our commercial endeavors. Needless to say, connecting with the community is a key element to ensure that any company is sustainable and successful. Therefore, MSD recently launched a volunteering program to track 125000 hours of employee volunteerism.

Globally we have programs such as MSD for Mothers, our company's 10-year, $500 million initiative focused on creating a world where no woman dies giving life, and the MECTIZAN Donation Program (MDP), which donates MECTIZAN (ivermectin) for the treatment of river blindness one of the leading causes of preventable blindness worldwide.

• Does the company have any plan of building its own factory site in KSA?

We are working toward this step in the future. Right now we are finalizing our packaging operation in Riyadh where more than 70% of all our products will be packed. We also continue to explore the feasibility of manufacturing our Vaccines as well as other products in the kingdom. We believe that under the Vision 2030 strategy the platform is now ready.

• Against the backdrop of economic burden, what do you think is the best prescription to promote the potential prevention or elimination of diseases/diabetes?

The most important goal we have to remember is the health of the citizen. However in treating and improving the health of the citizen, there are definitely productivity gains that will have an effect on the GDP of the kingdom. I think a quick look at the countries where health is tackled as a key component of government spend, will easily see that a healthier population is generally a more productive population.

© The Saudi Gazette 2016

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